NASA Future Air Planes

The commercial aircraft of the future are on today’s drawing tables. Some of those new designs surfaced this week when NASA announced the results of its Fundamental Aeronautics Program. In the 18-month exercise, heavy-hitting industrial and academic groups contemplated specific operational, environmental, and energy efficiency goals for air travel in 2030 and beyond.

20-passenger aircraft


From the fanciful to the finalists–not all designs could make the cut. Here are NASA’s goals for aircraft of the 2030s, as compared with those of today:

Better fuel efficiency: A greater than 70 percent reduction in fuel burn performance. That could have two salutary effects: a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a lower cost for air travel.

The wings are long and skinny

Less nitrous oxide: A greater than 75 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions, per the CAEP/6 standard, which seeks to improve air quality around airports. Nitrous oxide is a key ingredient in smog.

120-passenger aircraft

Less noise: A 71-decibel reduction below current Federal Aviation Administration noise standards. That would make things more peaceful around airports.

180-passenger D8 design

Reduced congestion: “Optimal use” of runways at multiple airports in metropolitan areas, which would make for less crowded skies and ease delays.

350 passengers cradt with speed of 0.83 Mach

NASA says that the concepts from the four teams were able to meet either the fuel burn or the noise goal, but not both, so it will be reassessing the overall goals to determine which need more time to get from the lab to operational use.

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